What Is The Martyr Complex? (& Why Should We Break It)


“I would be the country head of my company if I did not sacrifice my career to take care of the house and children”. This wasn’t the first time Anubhav had to hear this from his wife, Kashvi. I wish I was giving an 80’s movies reference. But I am not. For those of you who are old enough (me included), know what I am talking about! Martyr complex exists even now. IN.MOST.OF.US! But we are blissfully unaware of it.

We deal with all our relationships (including the one we have with ourselves) from it. Spend our entire life as martyrs. In psychological terms, it is a form of self-abuse.

What is The Martyr Complex?

Well! definition wise, it is the tendency to seek punishing behaviour and impose on self to feel “good”. Some people do it in the name of love or duty. Other people do it because deep down they feel that they are “bad” so they should overextend themselves and make sacrifices for others to feel good.

In some cases, martyr complex steers to the blame mode where a person blames other people for the state of their life. Such people constantly exaggerate negatively and place the blame on others for their miserable life.

Martyr complex is mostly seen in women. It is especially seen in people in co-dependent and abusive relationships.

This type of “martyrdom” is unhealthy for all the parties involved.

Some of us do it in milder forms. For eg: A mother forcing her unfulfilled dreams on her children. She wanted to learn the piano in her childhood but she couldn’t. So she goes out of the way to enrol her child for a piano class. But complains about not getting any free time as the piano class is an hour’s drive away.

Some do it in extremes. They take major life decisions for the sake of love and duty. For eg: A college-going girl can blame her parents for her unhappiness because she had to “sacrifice” her choice of subject to keep her parents happy.

Long story short – All of us do it!

The vicious cycle

Our parents have seen their parents do it. Their parents saw their parents sacrificing their happiness for their families.

This cycle has continued for centuries.

It’s not killing anyone so what is the urgency to break this cycle?

Because it is an unhealthy behaviour pattern that can ruin our relationships. Sometimes to save the other person from hurt. We continue living/dealing with the “martyr/victim” but deep within it affects our emotional and mental health. We do very little about it.

It can be soul-crushing.

No one wants to be called a “bad spouse” or “ungrateful child” who has no respect and value for the other “person’s penances.”

Why do we do it then? What makes us spend our lives being a victim?

1. Lack of Love of self and others

When we feel unloved our mind finds ways to get it from other people. Often losing perspective of the healthy way to do it.

2. Low self-esteem

Seeking validation from others. The constant need to put up a “selfless performance” so that others think we are “good people.”

3. Deep childhood beliefs

For eg: If a girl sees her mother operate from victim mode. She starts believing that it is the right way to have relationships. She lives her entire life being the victim and passes it on to her children.

4. Culture and Values

In conservative cultures in South Asia, South America etc, women grow up believing that they should prioritise their families’ happiness and wishes over theirs. Decisions like education, career, choosing a husband should be made keeping their family in mind.

Now when we give our power away and allow others to make decisions for us. Victimhood develops and rules our life.

5. Financial Background

Martyr complex is commonly seen in lower/middle strata. Where women are dependent on men for livelihood. They endure abuse but do not take active steps towards it.

6. Fear of the Unknown (or uncomfortable with change)

Change is uncomfortable. We do not like it. Fear of an unknown future is scarier than the discomfort of the known (our current life). So we fail to stand up against the abuse.

7. It provides an Escape

From dealing the real issues. Escape from taking responsibility and accepting our misjudgements and failures.

Let’s face it.

It is easier to impose unhealthy coping mechanisms than dealing with them head-on.

Above all, we do it because WE ARE UNAWARE OF IT.

What makes it difficult to break the pattern?

It is a deep-set pattern of society embedded in our subconscious mind. Even our societal talks revolve around it.

Some Unhealthy Signs of Martyr Complex aka Victim mode aka Blame mode

Emotional Blackmail is the biggest sign. For eg: A parent to blame the child for the opportunities they did not take. So the child should better repay for the sacrifices by being obedient.

Notice how some people keep complaining to anyone they can get hold of?

Once one situation resolves they find something else to complain about. It is the most common example of Victim mode. Somehow those people have convinced themselves that it is someone else’s responsibility to make them happy. Since they sacrificed their lives for others. The world owes it to them.

Anyone who doesn’t fit the mould gets criticism and drama.

The Big Question – Should you bell the Cat?

A call out for this toxic behaviour pattern. Our first reaction inadvertently is shock, denial and offence.

How dare you! I don’t live in blame mode. It’s because of my husband I left my flourishing career and now I am unhappy and helpless. It’s all his fault.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow

Accepting that we have led our life from “victim mode” is a bitter pill to swallow. But by bringing your awareness to it and wanting to do something about it, is half the battle won.

As awareness sets in – here’s what you can do

  1. Forgive yourself for it.

2. Accept yourself for all that you are and all that you are not.

3. Love yourself with all your flaws.

4. Ask for help. Your loved ones will be happy to help you overcome this pattern.

5. Do not feed the complex. As tempting as it may be – do not fall for the drama. Deal with the intention of non-judgement and love.

Whilst researching for the blog I recognised some of it’s traits in me. Found myself judging me for it. But this emotion also came with the realisation that compassion and love towards self is the way to deal with it.

Which sign did you connect with the most? And how do you plan to deal with it? Let us know in the comment section below.

Loves to write about health subjects and currently taking care of health niche as a moderator. If you have any topic in mind, share it in comments and we will make sure it is published soon after a review.


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